Why the FDA Recommends Flushing Unused Prescription Meds

It is common for municipalities to offer drug take-back programs once or twice a year. Additionally, hospitals, healthcare clinics, and primary care offices may act as take-back locations year-round. In the absence of a take-back option, the FDA sometimes recommends flushing unused medication down the toilet. Have you ever wondered why?

Flushing drugs down the toilet seems so unseemly. Perhaps it’s because we tend to equate the practice with illegal narcotics. But if you are talking about a prescription medication, you’re not doing anything illegal by flushing it. You are eliminating the risk of someone misusing or abusing the medication. That is what flushing is really all about.

The FDA Flush List

It is not necessary to flush all unused medications in the absence of a take-back location. Many prescription drugs can be safely disposed of in the trash. Those that cannot are on the official FDA flush list. The list includes dozens of different drugs containing opioids. Examples include buprenorphine, fentanyl, benzhydrocodone, hydromorphone, and even methadone. There is a small number of non-opioid drugs on the list as well.

The one thing they all have in common is the potential to be misused, abused, or dangerous to children or pets. The main concern here is opioid addiction. More than 80% of the drugs on the FDA flush list contain opioids. The government wants these drugs flushed so they do not fall into the hands of people who could abuse them.

Disposing of Drugs in the Trash

The fact that a prescription medication doesn’t pose a high risk of abuse or misuse does not necessarily make it safe. Thus, the FDA has come up with guidelines for disposing of unused medications in the trash. This applies to all prescriptions, whether they come from your local pharmacy or they are purchased online from a company like Canada Pharmacy.

Here’s what the FDA says you should do:

  1. Mix the unused medicine with something like dirt or cat litter. The point is to mix it with an unappealing substance that would turn away most people or animals otherwise tempted to dig through the trash.
  2. Place the mixture in a sealed container. The FDA suggests a sealed plastic bag. You could use a storage container, glass jar, etc. if you wished to.
  3. Dispose of the container with your normal trash. No special notification need be given to your trash hauler.
  4. Dispose of or recycle the original container after removing all prescription label information. Removing the labels is more of a security issue than anything else.

That’s it. That is how you throw unused medications in the trash if they are not on the FDA flush list. Can you flush the medications instead? The FDA doesn’t specifically say not to, but they don’t say you can either.

Negligible Environmental Concerns

In light of the FDA’s guidelines for disposing of unused medication, some objections have been raised as to the potential environmental impact of both flushing and landfilling. The FDA apparently considers such concerns negligible. Their official position is that the risks of unused medication being consumed by people it was not intended for far outweighs any potential contamination to soil, groundwater, etc.

You now know how to dispose of unused medication in the absence of a takeback location. The only question remaining is why you have unused medication to begin with. If your doctor prescribed more than you needed, perhaps you should make them aware of it on your next appointment. Recommending more than you need not only creates a disposal situation, but it also wastes money.

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